It’s not an easy task to worldbuild a fictional rock band. You need to have polished writing skills, a finger on the pulse of contemporary culture (or history of pop culture, if set in the past) and an in-depth knowledge of the music world. That’s a rare order.
Nevertheless, some writers in recent years have attempted. Published in 2019, Daisy Jones and The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, tells, through a series of interviews, the rise and fall of a Fleetwood Mac-like rock band in the 1970s, while the earlier (published in 2013) The Love Song of Johnny Valentine by Teddy Wayne explored the life of an 11-year-old bubblegum pop singer barely into puberty. I haven’t read the Reid book yet – it’s on my list – but Johnny Valentine was very well done, though it wobbled a bit in the suspension of disbelief department. Would the grocery checkstand gossip rags really assume readers want to hear about the romantic travails of an 11-year-old child? Would a group of up-and-coming alt rockers called The Latchkeys really take a kid that young out for a night of clubbing? But that may be because the novel was more satirical than realistic. It’s also, seven years in 2020, already history, an anthem to a vanished world.
In science fiction and fantasy there are a surprising number of fictional rock bands, perhaps because in the genre there’s an alt-history aspect to them. One band’s rise means another band kept from the spotlight, or a different nudge to the wider cultural spectrum.
Poppy Z Brite’s short novel Plastic Jesus, for example, posits that an imagined rock group called The Kydzz took the place of the Beatles in the 1960s, with the John Lennon and Paul McCartney analogs eventually falling in love and coming out in the wake of the Stonewall riots.
Gael Baudino’s Gossamer Axe, written at the height of Heavy Metal in the late 1980s, is about an ageless minstrel woman whose lesbian lover was abducted by the King of the Fairies, so she forms a heavy metal band to create the loudest, most demonic music possible to cast the magic to set her free. Published in 1990, it would be classed as urban fantasy now. It’s a neat concept and a good read, but again, because music and popular culture have changed so much in three decades, a little cringey to re-read and take seriously, through no fault of the author.
Another cringey book is one of George R. R. Martin’s more obscure novels, The Armageddon Rag. This alt history-thriller-supernatural hybrid is about a writer hired to write a series of articles for a Rolling Stone-like music mag called Hedgehog (whose mascot is a hedgehog wearing the American flag as diaper while picking its teeth with a toothpick) about a series of murders clustering around the members and hangers-on of an old 1960s acid rock group called the Nazgul, who come across like the love child of Led Zeppelin and MC5. As the protagonist interviews former band members across the country he also looks up old college friends from the 1960s, who, in the early 1980s when the book is set, have gone their separate ways, abandoning their youthful spirit and ideals. As we go back-and-forth we discover more about the band, including the fact that someone is trying to bring them back together for a nefarious purpose.
The book is really more of a loving homage to the cultural power of the 1960s experienced by aging baby boomers, in the spirit of the movie The Big Chill which came out around the same time (1983). It’s convoluted, ferocious, and sincere, but at the same time, very dated and easy to make fun of. It’s a period piece of a period piece.
But I have to hand it to Martin, he went all-out in his careful yet trashy design of the The Nazgul. They are named, of course, for Tolkien’s nasties, and their logo is an American flag in black and white with the Eye of Mordor where the stars would be. They hail from Philadelphia, where the lead singer, the albino Patrick Henry Hobbins, known as The Hobbit for his hairy feet, grew up in the tough Irish Catholic part of town. In the band, there is the consummate, talented musician who brings to mind a pre-breakdown Brian Jones, the piggish lead guitarist with the drug tendencies of Keith Richards and the sexual ones of Steve Priest, and the big, bearded, fiercely glowering drummer who stands in for John Bonham. They all sound plausible, but at the same time, ridiculous, for being too plausible. I don’t think Tolkien estate would have let a rock band with that name and imagery fly, for example. In another nod to rock history the band’s lead singer dies in a shooting by an unknown assailant in 1971, mid-concert, an act surpassing even the darkness of Altamont, the author tells us.
In the second half of the book the plot takes a turn to the supernatural: a spooky promoter and his henchwoman-at-arms Ananda Temple (yes, you heard that right) attempt to start WWIII or something by resurrecting the band with a new lead singer and tour, the apocalypse set to begin when the new frontman meets his own shooting death and a human sacrifice occurs live on stage. It’s all a bit too much, but compelling reading. The cover of the hardback first edition even featured a pic of Mr. Martin himself!
Anyway, if you need a name for a rock band, here’s a randomgenned and AI-created list.
Names for Fictional Rock Groups
|Little Brother from Mars
The Oyster Heist Crew
Finnish Nude Bear Club
|Erotic Kittens of Australia
Possible Blue Elephant